I bet you didn’t know the Braves have the best record in the National League. Also, if the season ended today, the Cubs wouldn’t make the playoffs. It’s only May, but these types of things make baseball fun.
You also might not have realized that the Braves rank second in the league in runs per game at 5.46 — trailing only the Yankees. Going into Sunday, they held a slight lead in average runs over both the Red Sox and Cubs — their opponent on Monday.
Today, we will take a closer look at the Braves-Cubs afternoon makeup game. We will not only analyze the pitching matchup, but also try to determine if Atlanta can keep raking against lefties. Let’s get to it.
Atlanta Braves (+147) at Chicago Cubs (-163)
Julio Teheran (3-1, 3.14 ERA) vs. Jose Quintana (4-2, 4.42 ERA)
2:20 p.m. ET
Lefty Lovers: It’s no secret anymore that this Braves team has crushed left-handed pitching. Just take a look at these overall team splits and corresponding MLB rankings for this season through Saturday:
The primary reason? The heart of their order. Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis — both lefties — have mashed left-handers thus far. Freeman is hitting .354 (with a silly 1.095 on-base plus slugging percentage, or OPS) vs. southpaws in 2018. Over the course of his career, he’s a .267 hitter against lefties with a much less impressive .784 OPS.
— LasMayores (@LasMayores) May 13, 2018
Meanwhile, Markakis is hitting an even better .377 vs. left-handers — significantly higher than his career .284 mark. However, he has hit righties and lefties at a pretty equal clip throughout his time in the big leagues.
Just take a look at the 10 highest batting averages against left-handed pitching this year. The only two lefties on this list? You guessed it — Markakis and Freeman.
Can they keep this up against same-handed pitching? Doubtful, but if they continue seeing southpaws at just an above-average clip the rest of the way, the Braves will continue to do damage against left-handed pitching.
However, the Atlanta offense is no one-trick pony. The Braves also hit .263 vs. right-handed pitching — the third-best average in the league. — Stuckey
Atlanta has won five of eight matchups against lefties this year and is 20-18 since the start of 2017. In the past two seasons, the Braves own a 17-14 record as underdogs vs. southpaws — returning 9.73 units of profit. — John Ewing
Hot-Lanta: As Stuck mentioned, the Braves haven’t discriminated against opposing pitching and have started to show themselves as real contenders in the National League. And thus far, their offense has done most of the heavy lifting. Bottom line — the Braves are raking right now.
Although Atlanta’s .312 BABIP suggests some regression looms, the rest of its portfolio suggests this performance is for real. The Braves get on base and have plenty of pop — both very positive signals. — Michael Leboff
The Braves also put pressure on teams on the basepaths. They had stolen 30 bases on the season through Saturday, which ranked third in all of baseball. The Cubs can’t say the same, as they had only swiped eight bases this season through Saturday — only Oakland had fewer. (The Cubs did somehow manage to steal five bases Sunday against the White Sox.) — Stuckey
Waking Back Up: Despite a lackluster performance (three runs) against Lucas Giolito on Sunday, the Cubs’ offense has started to show signs of life again. Before Sunday, Chicago scored 50 runs over its previous five games (all wins) — a staggering 10 runs per game. That’s good news for the North Siders, especially considering the former lovable losers didn’t score more than three runs in 10 of 11 games before that streak. Thanks to a four-game sweep of the Brewers — who amazingly scored only two runs in the series — the Cubs still managed to go 5-6 over that span, despite an output of fewer than 2.5 runs per game.
Even with an extended slump, the Cubs’ offense still ranks fourth overall with 5.41 runs per game, trailing only the Red Sox, Yankees and you guessed it — the Braves. — Stuckey
That said, Teheran has pitched well against the Cubs in his career, including some impressive numbers in three starts at Wrigley Field. Teheran has profited 4.5 units in seven career starts against Chicago, his most profitable opponent. — Evan Abrams
No-K Jose: Quintana has had a very disappointing start to 2018, especially to a fella such as myself who hyped him hard in the preseason. I actually bet on him to win the Cy Young. Looking pretty stupid on that one. Yikes.
Anywho, I did some digging to try to find the source of Quintana’s struggles, but nothing stuck out — other than the obvious. What’s the obvious? A career-high walk rate (by a landslide) and two strikeouts per nine innings fewer than last year. He hasn’t been unlucky or anything like that. He’s simply struggling with the fundamentals, which his 4.40 xFIP (just 0.02 less than his ERA) speaks to.
Quintana has a 1.78 K/BB ratio, which ranks in the bottom 20% of the league. You won’t find many successful pitchers with a K/BB ratio of less than two. He will try to turn his season around in a dreadful matchup against a Braves team that has annihilated lefties all season. — Mark Gallant
Is there any more meaningless stat in baseball than wins? While Quintana has a 2-0 record against the Braves in three career starts, he owns a 7.71 ERA, 2.07 WHIP and .500 BAA over 14 innings. — Stuckey
Stats via Baseball Reference and FanGraphs through Saturday
Photo credit: Kim Klement, USA TODAY Sports